Washington, Feb 2: Hours after US President Donald Trump accused the Justice Department and the FBI of a "pro-Democrat bias", saying they had "politicised" the probe against Republicans, he authorised the release of a controversial Republican memo alleging intelligence abuses.
"I think it's terrible, if you want to know the truth. I think it's a disgrace what's going on in this country. I think it's a disgrace," Trump said after he approved the release.
"The memo was sent to Congress. It was declassified. Congress will do whatever they're going to do. But I think it's a disgrace what's happening in our country. And when you look at that, and you see that and so many other things what's going on, a lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that," Trump told reporters.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said the document has been transmitted to the minority and majority members in the House Intelligence Committee. The document was also sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan's office, he said.
The White House has requested no redactions, Shah said. The extraordinary decision to release the classified four-page memo with a never-before-used House Intelligence Committee rule would escalate the partisan fight over the investigations into Russian meddling and possible collusion in the 2016 US presidential election. This will likely have major repercussions for the relationship between the justice department and Capitol Hill.
The memo's release would also threaten to further fracture the frayed relationship between the president and his justice department and intelligence community, both of which opposed the release of the document, which is based on classified intelligence. The FBI issued a rare public warning on Wednesday that the memo omits key information that could impact its veracity.
The memo, spearheaded by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, alleges that the FBI used the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia written by ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele to secure a FISA surveillance warrant on former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page without disclosing that the dossier was funded in part by Democratic sources.
In a statement earlier this week, Nunes said, "It's clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counter-intelligence investigation during an American political campaign."
The memo alleges FBI abused its surveillance tools during its probe into the alleged Russian collusion in the election. Trump's accusation is a rarest of the rare instance as it maligns people he appointed to their roles, including FBI Director Christopher Wray whom he nominated after firing former FBI Director James Comey in May.
"The top leadership and investigators of the FBI and the justice department have politicised the sacred investigative process in favour of Democrats and against Republicans - something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago," Trump said in a tweet. "Rank and File are great people!" he added.
The tweet also puts Trump squarely on the side of the Republican lawmakers who view the memo as a document that exposes the nefarious designs of the FBI. In a follow-up tweet, Trump quoted from a recent speech given by American activist and president of conservative watchdog operation Judicial Watch Tom Fitton in which he alleged the Democrats attempted to conceal their funding of a dossier that accused Trump of personal ties to the Kremlin.
"'You had Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party try to hide the fact that they gave money to GPS Fusion to create a dossier which was used by their allies in the Obama administration to convince a court misleadingly, by all accounts, to spy on the Trump Team, Tom Fitton'," Trump wrote.
The memo, as released by the House Intelligence Committee, accuses senior official of Department of Justice of inappropriately using information from opposition research against Republican candidate Trump to obtain surveillance warrants against the transition team.
The four-page memo alleges that the document was prepared on behalf of the then Hillary Clinton campaign and was paid for by her campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
It is written by the Republican staffers of the House Intelligence Committee. The findings, according to the memo, "raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain (Justice Department) and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)".
The memo calls it "a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process". Several of the officials including former FBI director James B Comey, his former deputy Andrew McCabe, former deputy attorney general Sally Yates and current Deputy Attorney General Rod J Rosenstein have been accused by the memo of signing off on court surveillance requests.
The request omitted key facts about the political motivations of the person supplying some of the information, Christopher Steele, a former intelligence officer in Britain. Steele "was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations an unauthorised disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI," the memo said.
Congressman Nunes said he discovered serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes. "Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies exist to defend the American people, not to be exploited to target one group on behalf of another," he said in defence.
Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy slammed Trump for releasing the memo. "While the memo reveals nothing about the FISA process, it reveals a lot about the president and House Republicans who released it," Leahy said.
"It represents yet another desperate, cynical, hyper- partisan attempt to smear key Justice Department officials and undermine the Russia investigation. It is more important than ever that the Special Counsel be able to complete his investigation without further interference from the president or his allies in Congress," Leahy said. "What most concerns me today is that a foreign adversary attacked our democracy in 2016, suffered no consequences, and is poised to do it again.
Yet the president has done nothing but attack the very people who defend our country from such foreign assaults our dedicated law enforcement and intelligence professionals. Perhaps the president needs to ask himself what team he is on," Leahy said.
The release of this memo by House Intelligence Committee Republicans and the White House, over the objections of the FBI and the Department of Justice, is reckless and demonstrates an astonishing disregard for the truth, Senator Mark Warner, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said.
"This unprecedented public disclosure of classified material during an ongoing criminal investigation is dangerous to our national security," he said.
"This will make it far more difficult for the intelligence committees to conduct meaningful, bipartisan oversight of intelligence activities in the future. This action was also taken without regard to the damage it could do to our ability to protect Americans from threats around the globe," Warner said.